- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday it has whittled down by more than half the number of patients in New Mexico who are awaiting care in the troubled health care system for service members.

The latest audit shows there were 482 veterans on the electronic waiting list, down from more than 1,040 a month ago. The list includes new patients for whom appointments cannot be scheduled within 90 days.

Sonja Brown, a spokeswoman for the VA in New Mexico, said officials attribute the shrinking waiting list partly to a combination of open clinics being held Saturdays at the main hospital in Albuquerque and at the clinic in Rio Rancho and efforts to call veterans seeking care.

Reports of patient deaths and treatment delays at VA hospitals and clinics around the country have led to a national outcry. Overall, audit results show tens of thousands of veterans are still waiting as long as three months for medical appointments.

Officials with the VA center in Albuquerque have acknowledged that the system in New Mexico has problems with waiting times.

The progress in chipping away at the state’s backlog was also partly attributed to most veterans on the waiting list seeking appointments related to hearing concerns.

The VA is recruiting for two new audiologists and support staff, Brown said. The facility’s current audiologist is working overtime and another has been hired to work Saturdays to address the backlog.

The New Mexico VA is also in the process of awarding a contract for two new hearing booths and allowing for appointments in local communities depending on demand. Still, Brown said some communities are also dealing with a backlog when it comes to audiology services.

To keep reducing the wait time for veterans, Brown said officials are evaluating whether to hold additional open clinics on Saturdays.



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